Gardening: Rediscover time-honored propagation method

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

A couple of weeks ago, I was scouting garden centers to see what’s new when I came across some lovely variegated ivy vines trained on large wire rings that sit atop their pots. I’d been looking for this type of topiary for months.  

After inspecting them all, I selected one that was in serious need of pruning – I choose it over the others that were in better “shape” because for me, grooming plants is relaxing and takes my mind off the issues of the day.

Variegated ivy with long branches was perfect to take cuttings to root in water.

Besides, those long branches were perfect to take cuttings to root in water. Placed in cute glass containers, they look attractive on my bathroom and kitchen sinks and when the emerging roots reach an inch or so in length, I’ll pot them up in fresh potting soil. I have a new container  - a classic bust of a beautiful lady that needs a crown of ivy -- and most 4-inch pots were way too large.  

Propagating houseplants by rooting them in water is a time-honored tradition that many folks have forgotten about.   

Houseplants that propagate easily by water rooting include ivy, pathos, philodendron and monster.  Coleus and spider plants are also options.

The good news about this method of propagation is it’s fast, easy and there’s no muss or fuss. All you need is a glass container, some fresh water and a pair of sharp shears. Upkeep is also a snap. Simply change out the water every week or two.

To begin, cut a section of a stem with three or four leaves and remove the bottom leaf and trim the stem just below.  Then place the stem in a small container of fresh water so it’s submerged about halfway. It’s key not to have any leaves under water because they will quickly rot.

Don’t be tempted to add fertilizer or other chemicals. Mother Nature manufactures her own rooting hormone just below that node where the leaf was removed.

While researching this column, I found directions for rooting geraniums in water, and it just so happens I have a good-sized variegated leaf specimen sitting in a bucket under a LED light in my office. I didn’t plant it, I just dug it out of the ground and dropped it in the pail. It has a good-sized rootball but most of roots are exposed.  So, I’m harvesting a few cuttings from it, too. Hopefully they will be ready to plant in the Rochester OPC Stone House Garden at the end of May.  

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at